A former Texas police officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson through a rear window of her home in 2019 was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 12 years in prison for his manslaughter conviction.
Aaron Dean, 38, had faced up to 20 years in prison, but jurors also had the option of sentencing him to probation. The same jury that convicted him of manslaughter Thursday also determined the sentence — 11 years, 10 months and 12 days.
The white Fort Worth officer shot the 28-year-old Black woman while responding to a call about an open front door. His guilty verdict was a rare conviction of an officer for killing someone who was also armed with a gun.
During the trial, the primary dispute was whether Dean knew Jefferson was armed. Dean testified that he saw her weapon; prosecutors claimed the evidence showed otherwise.
Dean shot Jefferson on Oct. 12, 2019, after a neighbor called a nonemergency police line to report that the front door to Jefferson’s home was open. She had been playing video games that night with her 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr, and it emerged at trial that they left the doors open to vent smoke from hamburgers the boy burnt. Zion, now 11, was in the room with his aunt when she was shot and testified during the trial.
After the sentence was pronounced, one of Jefferson's sisters, Ashley Carr, read a statements in court from herself and another sister, Amber Carr, who is Zion's mother.
Amber Carr, said Jefferson, who planned to go to medical school, “had big dreams and goals” and that her son "feels he is responsible to fill the whole role of his aunt, and he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
Ashley Carr called her sister "a beautiful ray of sunshine.”
“She was in her home, which should have been the safest place for her to be, and yet turned out to be the most dangerous,” she said.
At a news conference held later Tuesday outside of the home where Jefferson was killed, Ashley Carr said the family wanted Dean sentenced to more time, but saw symbolism in the sentence chosen by the jury.
“Eleven years, that’s the same age as Zion," she said. “Ten months, 12 days, that’s the day that it happened. It’s a message in this. It might not be the message that we wanted and the whole dream, but it’s some of it."
Attorneys for Dean did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press following the sentencing.
The case was unusual for the relative speed with which, amid public outrage, the Fort Worth Police Department released video of the shooting and arrested Dean. He’d completed the police academy the year before and quit the force without speaking to investigators.
Since then, the case was repeatedly postponed amid lawyerly wrangling, the terminal illness of Dean’s lead attorney and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Body camera footage showed that Dean and a second officer who responded to the call didn’t identify themselves as police at the house. Dean and Officer Carol Darch testified that they thought the house might have been burglarized and quietly moved into the fenced-off backyard looking for signs of forced entry.
There, Dean, whose gun was drawn, fired a single shot through the window a split-second after shouting at Jefferson, who was inside, to show her hands.
Dean testified that he had no choice when he saw Jefferson pointing the barrel of a gun directly at him. But under questioning from prosecutors he acknowledged numerous errors, repeatedly conceding that actions he took before and after the shooting were “more bad police work.”
Darch’s back was to the window when Dean shot, but she testified that he never mentioned seeing a gun before he pulled the trigger and didn’t say anything about the weapon as they rushed in to search the house.
Dean acknowledged on the witness stand that he said something about the gun only after seeing it on the floor inside the house and that he never gave Jefferson first aid.
Zion testified that Jefferson took out her gun believing there was an intruder in the backyard, but he offered contradictory accounts of whether she pointed the pistol out the window. On the trial’s opening day, he testified that Jefferson always had the gun pointed down, but in an interview that was recorded soon after the shooting and played in court, Zion said she had pointed the weapon at the window.